International Rubber Study Group (IRSG), the world’s most powerful body engaged in promoting and supporting the global rubber industry — both natural and synthetic — is celebrating its 75th anniversary. In fact, IRSG is the sole organisation that brings together producers, processors, traders, users, financial institutions and other stakeholders with the aim to provide a forum to discuss any issue that could affect the world rubber market. The organisation has been an active witness to the time and tides of the rubber industry and playing a proactive role in suggesting solutions to the sustainability of the industry. In an exclusive interview to Rubber Asia, Salvatore Pinizzotto, Secretary General of the organisation, recalls the services rendered by IRSG to the global rubber industry and its roadmap. EXCERPTS:

By : A Saj Mathews

It’s heartening to note that IRSG is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The organisation can genuinely take pride in playing a pivotal role in supporting the global rubber industry in multiple ways. On this prestigious occasion, appreciate if you could tell us about the origin and early days development of IRSG.

At a meeting in London in August 1944, attended by industry representatives, the three governments of the UK, the US and the Netherlands jointly announced the formation of a Rubber Study Group. The objective of the Study Group was to provide an initial forum for the discussion of the problems of mutual interest concerning the current and future position of the world’s rubber industry. It was an important feature of the new Study Group that it would not make binding recommendations, and its terms of reference read, in part:

‘The Group will meet from time to time to discuss common problems arising from the production, manufacture and use of rubber, crude, synthetic and reclaimed. Studies will be initiated and possible solutions to rubber problems will be considered. However, the Group will not formulate and transmit recommendations to participating governments, although the latter will be kept fully informed of the proceedings of the Group through their representatives.’
The first few meetings of the Study Group were crucial in establishing its mode of operation and usefulness in securing frank and open exchanges of information and opinions. France was admitted as a founder member after the end of the War, and other governments were kept informed of the proceedings of the Group.

In 1947, in recognition of the views of the international meeting which led to the formation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the membership of the Study Group was extended to ‘all Governments substantially interested in the production or consumption of rubber’. Thus, the number of governments represented on the Group increased to 15, with observers from another 9 countries and two UN organisations.

The Group was formally recognised as an International Body through the negotiation of a Headquarters Agreement with the government of UK in 1978 – hence the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) was officially named. The IRSG headquarter has been based in London till 2008, and since then, it has been relocated in Singapore in order to be closer to the core of the world’s rubber industry.

What are IRSG’s major milestones in the last 75 years?

The main strength of IRSG lies in the ability of the organisation to consistently deliver excellence. Whether IRSG is providing data and statistics, analysing trends, publishing estimates and studies or organizing conferences that bring together producers and users of rubber, year after year we set the bar high.

For many years, IRSG has been the only organisation in the world that collected extensive statistics on production, use and trade of both Natural and Synthetic Rubber, contributing enormously to understand the dynamics of the world rubber market. We are continuously upgrading our capability to collect and publish relevant statistics and analysis for both Governments and the industry, keeping in mind that the way statistics are used today is very much different from the past.

The aim remains to increase transparency in the rubber sector, as important today as it has been in the past. Furthermore, the rubber sector is fast changing and a proper dialogue among various stakeholders is very important to make sure that adequate solutions could be identified to sustain growth and development along the whole rubber value chain.

IRSG is the sole organisation that brings together producers, processors, traders, users, financial institutions and other stakeholders with the aim to provide a forum to discuss any issue that could affect the world rubber market. In this regard, the World Rubber Summit is the most important international rubber conference with the presence every year of Governments’ representatives (from both producing and consumer countries), industry leaders and innovators that provides insights on current and future trends.

Although IRSG is an intergovernmental organisation, we have also a large industry membership. Currently, we have more than 100 members that cover the whole rubber value chain. All IRSG’s Panel of Associates (PoAs), increase their market intelligence capabilities accessing all our data, publications and market analysis, enhance business opportunities as part of the unique IRSG’s network system and are able to significantly make a difference in the rubber economy working closely with the experts of the IRSG secretariat in promoting projects of regional or national interest.

Natural rubber industry is going through a lingering crisis mainly on account of price volatility, labour shortage and climatic vagaries, currency and oil price fluctuations etc. In this context, IRSG’s NR sustainability initiatives are widely acclaimed. Please update.

Sustainability is very important for IRSG and the organisation has been at the forefront of this topic in the rubber sector coordinating the activities of the SNR-i project. The IRSG Secretariat has unveiled a wider Sustainability Agenda that will be focused both on natural and synthetic rubber. The IRSG’s Sustainability Agenda will be based on eight UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs embrace a universal approach to the sustainable development agenda based on the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Context-specific, but universally relevant actions as well as industry-wide sustainable development objectives and commitments. The interconnectedness of SDGs to business strategies helps the private sector to improve resilience and competitiveness. Unlocking the potential of the private sector is fundamental to progress. Partnership is very important and it is a way to work with governments and other critical players to make real changes happen. The Group target the realisation of SGDs through a work programme with the aim to achieve a system transformation.

What are the plans to strengthen the base and footprint of IRSG in the coming years?

IRSG can look back over the 75 years during which it has made significant contributions to the understanding between the various sectors of the worldwide rubber industry. Throughout this time the members have continued to support its activities of providing tangible benefits by ensuring that the development of the rubber economy has been based on adequate information. IRSG has to be an inclusive organisation opened to address the main concerns of the rubber community, both on the production and consumption side. The Group has to be at the forefront to indicate solutions to guarantee a sustainable and prosperous future to all rubber stakeholders. It is vital to put together and make available the skills, experiences, knowledge already accessible and look for alternatives that might be available, thanks especially to the expected improvement in technologies.